Growing Up in the Leadership Institute

For six of the last seven years, I’ve grown up in CMU’s Leadership Institute. I’ve gone from a first-year Leader Advancement Scholar to a Graduate Assistant and my journey (for now) has come to an end. I grew up in the LI  – from a 17 year old kid to a 24 year old young professional seeking the next opportunity that life presents.

My experience culminates with a program that set the stage for what my life would become. At the end of my first year (2011), I attended the LeaderShape Institute, where I was challenged to clarify my core values, discuss what would be possible to achieve, and determine what impact I wanted to make on the world around me. In the most cliche way possible, the LeaderShape Institute has served as the beginning and ending of my time at CMU. As a member of the faculty this year’s Institute, it serves as a personal ending and beginning.

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Standing alongside 140 people asking what can we do to make the world better? How can we Live in Possibility? How can we build a more Just, Caring, and Thriving world that is a place for everyone? I am deeply thankful that I have been given the chance to ask myself those questions once more before I enter the professional world. How can I enact the vision I wrote down several years ago? How has that vision changed? How have I changed? What have I achieved and what is left to do?

What comes next for me is a life of seeing what’s possible, of building/maintaining meaningful and healthy relationships, as well as doing work that positively affects the lives of others. Though I may have already carried that in me, CMU’s Leadership Institute pulled it out of me. My life is immensely better because of the people, experiences, and wisdom gained from being part of the Leadership Institute.

There are so many people to thank, and to each and every single one of you – Thank You from the bottom of my heart. I will carry with me the lessons, love, kindness, and memories that you have shared with me.

When the best leader’s work is done, the people will say, ‘we did it ourselves.’

In 2015, I rejoined the Leadership Institute as a Graduate Student charged with the mission to coordinate leadership programs. This meant I would work with undergraduate student coordinators who would help build and implement leadership programs for students all across CMU’s campus.

When I arrived, CMU’s Leadership Institute was facing a tipping point. It was time to change and much of what we did would need to change as well; not in spirt because at its core the LI was staying the same – prompting students to develop into ethical leaders who would go out to impact our campus community, as well as our local, national, and international communities. What was changing was how we did that.

One program in particular was evolving – risk, change, uncertain, and a belief that it could be made better. Jesi Ekonen, David Walter, and Natalie Woods had transformed what used to be the Alpha Leadership Program into what would become the Spark Leadership Series. I arrived as this first iteration had be completed. Two semesters of testing occurred and we found great success. We offered the opportunity to more students than we had previously, we refined our method and messages. By all accounts it was successful, but we weren’t satisfied.

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Within the existing framework, we found that a four-week program was no longer conducive to our calendar. We’d recently added Catalyst – a LeaderShape Program, the Academic Calendar didn’t allow for much flexibility, and eventually we’d run right into another program. We’d risk over-programming students by keeping Spark the same. So we took another calculated risk. We changed Spark from four weeks to one day.

This took some maneuvering and creativity. After yesterday, we found what we were looking for. A program that could offered multiple times in a semester to a variety of audiences presented in a way that was engaging, refined, and efficient. That is in part to some very important people. My undergraduate coordinators: David Walter, Amanda Yats, and Jordyn Salerno.

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In an organic process that played to one another’s strengths, each of them took on a role that allowed them to become the best version of a Spark Coordinator – David possesses an immense amount of creativity, but also the control to produce amazing material. This is one of David’s greatest talents. One area in which I’ve seen him grow tremendously is in his ability to present material with confidence, certainty, and with great passion. His understanding of the mission, purpose, and direction of Spark has come with time and commitment. We’ll be sad to see him move on to his next journey come May. If there were awards for our office and program, David would receive the Spark award for passion, commitment, and creativity.

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Amanda Yats, aside from a printer malfunction (she’ll understand that one), made this event happen behind the scenes. Her ability to coordinate an event is as professional as it gets. She spent months make sure that rooms were reserved, catering was ordered and adjusted, and that all physical materials that participants receive were creative and without error. Without her efforts, the day would simply not be possible. If there were awards to give for our office and program, Amanda would receive the Heart and Soul of award.

Jordyn Salerno is a Grad Assistant’s dream coordinator because she knows how to get people organized and in the same place. There is another important group that is absolutely necessary for Spark and those are the Spark facilitators. Jordyn spent last semester and many day over her own winter break coordinating the selection and training of facilitators. Without question, her work led to one of the most cohesive facilitator teams the LI has ever had. If there were awards to give for our office and program, Jordyn would receive the Leadership Award, because her efforts resulted in the creation of more leaders.

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Together, the Spark Coordinators provided a transformative experience that has undoubtedly helped students begin their journey to discover and manifest their leadership potential. That is truly remarkable.

Maybe I’m getting sentimental with graduation looming and I’ll have to walk out of this position in a few months. But maybe, it’s more than sentimentality – maybe it is the understanding that this program could run without now because of how strong my team is. Either way, I am deeply thankful for their work, and more than that, I hold a great sense of pride in their ability to affect the lives of others who are beginning their leadership journey.

Office Spotlight – Dan Gaken

I listened to the Cubs fight song while writing this if that tells you anything about Dan Gaken. Last night the Cubs moved onto the World Series for the first time since 1945. History was made; much like what has been achieved under the leadership of Dan Gaken.

Over the years, Dan has served as a mentor, supporter, champion, and advisor to many students across the country. Though he gets to call CMU home, Dan has done some tremendous things for the lives of students around the United States. From the famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) ESPN speech to the HEEYYYYYY LAS yell to get everyone’s attention, Dan has stewarded the resources and energy of CMU’s Leadership Institute for nearly 20 years. He’s not old. He just started early.

Much of that time as an individual professional staff member with the help of students and volunteers. Because of his commitment and effort, CMU has truly dedicated support and resources to giving every student on campus the opportunity to discover the leader within and to gain the skills to be their best. I’ve been around long enough (not that long) to see the office increase from two professional staff to the current seven. Much of that is because of the compelling arguments, the unrecognized humble service (thanks for that term Denny), and the consistent belief that leadership is for everyone.

In the slide show, you’ll only see one photo of him at work because he as has a balanced life. He and his partner Erin have a baby girl and a bigggg puppy, Wrigley. Our team in the Leadership Institute is much more than that. We’re a family committed to empowering students to give a damn about the world and making it better. We get to do that because of the vision casted by Dan Gaken and all the work that came before we showed up. Thanks for all you do, Dan.

 

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Dan is the Director of CMU’s Leadership Institute, a Cubs Fan, Husband and Dad, and a Wrigley enthusiast.